2nd September 2014 We were able to get our Chinese visa yesterday (see Travel notes/Border entry) so we are now free to travel up to Lake Baikal in Siberia. We have heard that the road is good by Mongolian standards so we will spend a week or so up there before heading south to the Chinese border. In Ulaan Baatar we are staying at an overlanders checkpoint, The Oasis Guesthouse. It serves western fast food including Crumbled eggs for breakfast, good description I thought.
3rd September 2014 The road from Ulaan Baatar to Kyakhta, the border post, was all tar of varying quality but just so good compared to what we have been used to. Wild camped at a shallow lake with the usual horse, goat and sheep herds strolling past. We thought the isolated border post would be quiet, which it was, however it still took about four hours to get through. Why I don’t know but the delay was all up in the Russian entry control post. The Russians made a very thorough search of every car and were pleasant about it right up until the final official. I had been directed to park in a certain spot and the official, a harassed looking Mongolian female called me to the office. Curtly told me to sign the documents and gave me a pen. I signed. She said why did you use the red pen, I replied you gave it to me, She questioned why did you park there, I replied I was told to. She threw the documents onto the desk, finished? I asked. Humph was the reply. Nice As soon as we entered Russia we noticed the difference in the landscape back to fir and deciduous trees, just like the Russia we had left. We have noticed this about many countries, that is to say, as soon as you enter a new country it has it’s own characteristic almost straight away. The roads on the Russian side are very good and this is now Eastern Siberia so I expected worse. As we were looking for a suitable camp spot for the night we passed by an abandoned industrial complex just out of Ulan-Ude, spooky, so we drove on through the hilly fields to find a small river just out of Ulan-Ude 80 odd K’s from Lake Baikal. This is it for the night.
4th September 2014 Arrived at Lake Baikal and found a campsite by the water, already the climate is colder with a very strong wind blowing. The sea, I mean lake, is pounding, roaring, very loud, you could almost surf it. Lake Baikal looks and behaves like an ocean, it is huge. All night the wind howled with some rain but we were snug in our little penthouse boudoir.
5th September 2014 Slowly cruised along the east coast looking for potential camping spots and stopping for lunch for Salyonka, a savoury soup of carrots, potato’s, sausage and gherkin and then, a second course of palmeni, a meat filled dumpling. Entered Zabankaliski National Park at the northern end of the lake and found a spot right on a beach just as the weather cleared. Good Russian pine has been provided so we are having a fire as the sun sets. It is cool here anyway as it is now autumn but as soon as the sun goes down you feel a definite drop in temperature. This whole lake is has golden sand beaches, probably the best we have seen on the whole trip so far and there is a crescent of blue mountains surrounding us. Lake Baikal holds the largest volume of fresh water in the world. It is a narrow lake, about six hundred kilometres long and is 1.6 kilometres deep.
6th September 2014 Spent the morning exploring the National park including Svyatoy Nos or Holy Nose, a big pelican head shaped peninsula, put out a small grass fire we found along the way and later drove around some of the backcountry of Siberia getting as far north as the village of Bodon. Suddenly it’s autumn as the trees, overnight, have changed colour giving us an idea of what is yet to come. We did about 350k’s today and are again camped on the eastern shore of Lake Baikal looking at a beautiful sunset. (Half an hour later). This sunset is now like a psychedelic poster, an orange sky with magenta clouds, purple mountains on the other side and mauve waves with crimson crests, no I’m not smoking funny stuff. All of this time driving across Russia/Mongolia and we are still only a little over half way across this biggest country on Earth.
7th September 2014 Happy Fathers Day! Judy cooked a special breakfast of crumbled eggs with onions and sausage, fantastic. Drove slowly around the shore of Baikal not really wanting to leave, before stopping for lunch at Ulan Ude where we had a Subway (there are three Subway franchises in this town). A beautiful sunny day saw us say goodbye to Russia and hello again Mongolia. This time the border crossing was much quicker than before with forms and fee payments completely different from both previous entries to, and departures from, both countries. I received a salute from one Russian border soldier. I love that kind of treatment. We didn’t find a campsite until about 8.30pm but lucked in again with a spot on a hill in a wooded area looking down on what appears to be an English village, not your usual Gers.
8th September 2014 Back to Ulaan Baatar and booked the car in for a service at Toyota and camped just out of town on a hill overlooking Ulaan Baatar, the giant Budda statue and accompanying monastery.
Had the quickest haircut back at the Oasis Guesthouse $6.
Days are perfect here at the moment with clear blue sky and 25 to 28 degrees. Much warmer than I expected at his time of year.